November 1, 2018


'In love with democracy,' Ilhan Omar draws diverse supporters in bid for Congress (Allison Herrera and Peter Majerle, 11/01/18, PRI)

Omar fled her native Somalia when she was 8 years old and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She came to the US as a 12-year-old and eventually settled in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which has long been a first stop for new arrivals in the US. There, she "fell in love with democracy" and started spending time as a community organizer until she ran for office. [...]

"She worked hard for it," says Isse. "It wasn't easy for her in our community to understand that she is the candidate. A lot of times, you know, we have reservations about women running for office."

"She represents and inspires many young Muslim women because people always stereotype about how wearing our veil is an oppression," says Shabbeleh. "And once they see Ilhan, who is so progressive and really vocal they could see that, no, we're exactly the opposite of what you assumed."

And she has inspired other Somali women. Earlier this fall, Sarah Mohamed Khalif, a 21-year-old Somali woman won a seat on a city council seat in Leuven, Belgium. On Twitter, she has praised Omar and said she too hoped to win an election.

In Sweden, Leila Ali Elmi is also inspired by what Omar has achieved. Elmi, like Omar fled Somalia when she was young. And like Omar, she went into politics. Earlier this summer, she was elected to parliament as a Green Party member. She's watched Omar's campaign and the success she's had in the US.

"Because she is a woman and because she is a woman of color, women are inspired by her to break into politics, which is male dominated," says Elmi. 

When Omar first ran, Shabbeleh's daughter was just 12 years old. Earlier this year, her daughter started high school and said she wants to run for student council. "Because she wants to start change. And that's the kind of behavior Ilhan has inspired," says Shabbeleh.

For Omar, the inspiration to get involved in politics came from her family, who were always talking about politics, world news and democracy over meals.

"What I always emphasize is that I am a representative who happens to be Somali," Omar says. "I am not a Somali representative. I am not a Muslim representative. I am not a millennial representative. I am not a woman representative. I am a representative who happens to have all of these marginalized identities and can understand the intersectionality of all of them in a very unique way."

Posted by at November 1, 2018 4:43 PM